What's Bellingham going to do about its urban deer problem?
Feeding wild deer in city limits could soon be prohibited.
The Bellingham City Council is considering a ban after hearing from residents frustrated by neighbors who purposefully feed deer, drawing them in great numbers and exacerbating problems that come with a burgeoning deer population, according to city officials.
But neighbors don’t have any recourse when they complain because the city doesn’t have a rule on the books.
“The problem now is that there is no way for state wildlife officials or for local animal control officers to take action when problems get out of hand,” said Michael Lilliquist, president of the Bellingham City Council. “A local law would give enforcement officials something to point at.”
Exactly what the new rule will look like, and whether there will be fines, will become clearer when city staff return with a draft for the council’s consideration. But the council did say it wasn’t interested in creating “deer police.”
“I think we all love our environment, but we are definitely over-run with deer. This might not solve everything, but it might start to alleviate some of that pressure,” Council member Pinky Vargas said.
What’s the problem?
Deer thrive in Bellingham as they do in other similar low-density urban environments, according to Mark Gardner, the city policy analyst who’s drafting a rule.
Trees and shrubbery alternating with open spaces or lawns are optimal for the growth of plants that provide food for deer, he told the City Council last week.
As a result, the deer population is increasing in Bellingham and other urban areas.
Exactly how much it’s been rising here is unknown because the city doesn’t track deer numbers.
What is known is that frustrated neighbors want the City Council to do something.
Among them was Ginger Decker, who lives on Ridgeway Drive and has a herd of 20 deer that stay in her neighborhood because a neighbor is feeding them.
“Everyone on my street has a story. I’ve sustained over three thousand dollars in property damage and you might recall, a buck rammed his antlers into my window because my cat was sitting on the other side,” she wrote to the council.
“Within the past two months two dogs have been seriously injured on my block from aggressive bucks. A buck ran into a neighbor’s car this past spring and could have killed her. Another neighbor has Norway rats appearing in her shed where there has never been rats before. We now see raccoon latrines, which I believe are feeding off the same deer corn put out for deer,” Decker wrote.
Feeding deer isn’t good for them either, because the food they’re given is difficult for them to digest, state wildlife officials said, comparing giving deer fruit and grains to “feeding your children nothing but candy bars.”
Bringing a bunch of deer together also increases the chances of disease transmission.
What to do
Bellingham wouldn’t be alone if it bans feeding wild deer.
Austin, Texas and Holladay, Utah already do so.
In Washington state, Ocean Shores prohibits feeding deer and other wild animals while Medical Lake bans feeding deer, elk and moose.
Council member April Barker wanted to make sure the city was clear on what it was doing.
“People find a lot of joy in this,” Barker said of feeding animals. “For every person that’s really angry about it, you’re going to have somebody that loves it.”
The City Council so far is focused on deer. If another creature is added, it could be raccoons, but the intent is to keep the focus narrow, Lilliquist said.
That also means zeroing in on people who intentionally feed deer. So, residents wouldn’t get in trouble if deer eat their landscaping, fruit from their trees or greens from their garden, or get into their bird feeder.
“What happens when people intentionally contribute to a problem by feeding wild animals when they shouldn’t be? In that narrow circumstance, what can we do?” Lilliquist said of what he’d like to see in an ordinance.